Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Review: Bates Delta 8 boots

I've worn boots almost every day since I was at uni and out of school-uniforms, in 1994. If I'm not in boots, I'm barefoot, unless I have a real need to wear shoes (like driving, at which time I'll throw on some sandals. However, day in, day out, boots. I've had my share of GP's and steel-caps, giant goth boots and sheepskins. However, I tend to wear them to death. To my shame I infrequently polish them, but I do try to at least maintain them, doing waterproofing and the like. Here is my current set, and I think, my favorite yet. These are the Bates Delta 8 Gore-Tex Sidezip Boots and I'd like to tell you a thing or two about them.
Firstly, for a 6" boot, I find they are light at 1.6kg (3.7lbs) and well balanced. They are leather, "ballistic nylon" and Gore-Tex construction in the "uppers" which is both breathable and tough, and the soles are made from Vibram® Mutant rubber. Zipper closures on the instep make for speedy fitting, but I must admit, unless I'm going to a meeting,or know I'm about to so some serious trecking, I leave them unzipped to breathe and give me some more freedom whilst I'm sitting or strolling. The soles are hard wearing and grippy, whilst not being an aggressive cleat you can see that they have collected some crud from feedings the chookens this morning. The uppers are cemented onto the soles, rather than stitched, but have given me no sign of decaying as yet.I replaced the shoestrings with paracord, because you never know when you might need some. The leather upper continues up asa fold behind the zipper to keep the entirety of the height of the boot waterproof.

The interesting part of these boots however is the removable insole. I have dodgy Achilles tendons, and require a bit of bracing, which these offer in a unique way. The whole sturdy fitted insole comes with two gel-padded regions, one on the ball, and another at the heel. The ball-pad is nothing special, other than being bonded directly into the insole, so it sits in the right place, all the time, without slipping and sliding like some after-market pads I've had in the past. The heel end is where things get interesting. This is the iCS® technology adjustable heel .

What it does is allows the wearer to customise the firmness of the heel padding, by rotating the blue gel disk, the crenelations of which vary around its circumference according to the labels, letting you adjust the fit, both for firmness, and also for lateral movement. I love this. I've been able to adjust my boots to suit where my physio has been at, and maintain a level of protection for my ankles that other boots have failed at in the past. These are pitched as Police boots, and I would think that they are well suited.

I think I've finally found my brand for boots, so much so that I bought a second set of Bates boots. Hardy, great fitting, good protection for my feets and not clunky. Look out summer storms and abandoned fortification locked-doors everywhere. I have me some good kickers on!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Review: Platatac MAC plate carrier

I wanted to tell you all about a very special and awesome piece of kit I have, which I initially got specifically to use for my Stargate Lasertag LRP, but have come to enjoy more and more for a variety of purposes, both costume and preparedness related. This is the Platatac MAC Medium Armour Carrier set. I've pulled off some of the pouches I usually have loaded onto it, such as two of the SR-25 double magazine a FUP utility pouches and a yet-to be reviewed Modular Radio Pouch to give you a better look at it, but you can see I have left my Breacher-Bar, a hank of paracord, some zip-ties and a SR-25 Single Shingle pouch, holding my radio. The art-grenade was a piece my very talented friend Marty Whitmore painted up for me, and makes for an exciting addition to my chest. A couple of Cyalume sticks poking out the side for good measure. I after-marketed a name-tape attachment point at the front.

But lets talk some more about the MAC. The set consists of a front piece, a back and shoulders piece, a cummerbund and shoulder-pads. It's modular, like so many of the products from Platatac, and they offer a variety of options, go check them out.
The front piece has two distinct bands of MOLLE strips, the upper being a three by six flanked by hook-and-loop attachment points for the strapping of the front piece to the back. The lower band is found on top of a large flap, lifting up from the bottom, of hook-and-loop, which plays an important part in securing the cummerbund. It also features a "pocket" of hook-and-loop opening downwards, presumably for sandwiching pouches.

The back piece also has two distinct bands of MOLLE strips. The upper being the same three by six pattern as on the front, but is very securely sewn over a drag handle, which features a nametape sized strip of loop-side hook-and-loop. The lower band features a wider three by eight band of MOLLE loops, and the interesting feature here is that it is sewn over a pocket that runs the width of the back-piece, specifically for the cummerbund to run through. At the top of the back piece, running up both shoulders are bands of elastic, under which can be fed hydration system tubes, or cables for radio or other electronics to keep them out of the way and snag-free.

The cummerbund itself features bands of three by eight MOLLE loops on both sides, and is adjustable at the back by corset style lacing, and fixes to the front piece by means of two wide and tall sandwiching bands of hook-and-loop allowing either side to be opened up independently, giving the wearer left or right handed entry, as suits them. There are two sets of loops dangling from the bottom edges of both front and back, with hook-and-loop and press-stud closure at each. These are for tying into a belt system such as the Young Guns belt but could also support groin armour I suspect. I leave mine separate, giving me more modular wearing options. I have also at times used them to attach a rolled up waterproof poncho and bundled rope, but this got a bit ungainly when I added more pouches or a drop-leg rig.

  The shoulder straps that come with the back piece feature two sets of D-rings for attachment as well as Fastex clips to attach the front to the back, as well as elastic sewn into the pads to manage the excess strapping. The shoulder straps included as part of the back piece are pretty good, and extend the wicking surface and closed cell padding up and onto the wearers shoulders, but under load, as any armour wearer can attest, extra padding never goes astray, and as part of the set, twin pads are a blessing. The extra padding shoulder pads mirror the twin D-ring setup as on the back-piece's shoulders, and feature hook-and-loop closure, with enough room to also allow a hydration tube and cords to feed through. The Fastex clips of the front-to-back attachment can be slid into the shoulder pad to again reduce their propensity to bits or dig, and give a more streamlined profile. They are easily slid back to allow fast access as required if the whole rig needs to be dropped rapidly for whatever reason.

Lets take a look inside the MAC to see where it really comes into its own. As I mentioned previously, the inner surfaces are all covered in a breathable wicking mesh, over closed cell, honeycombed foam to not only give padding, but allow some airflow, a real boon in the field, especially when loaded up. In the event the cummerbund isn't worn, wide-mouthed Fastex clips are available to attach the waist levels of both front and back (although my back piece seemed to be missing its corresponding ends). The magic of the MAC however is its armour carrying capacity. A large hook-and-loop closing pocket gives access to standard CBA plates, and can facilitate both hard and soft options. The press-stud seen is part of the front panel closure.

The back piece also carries armour, with similar features, as well as extra drainage grommets. The cummerbund feed through the back, as you will recall, and from this angle you can see the side-armour pockets that give lateral protection.
Obviously, I'm not eligible for actual ballistic protection, being neither military or LEO, but for the purposes of realism for my LRP and costuming, I have included Polyethylene cutting boards, shaped to the right size. These not only give me the rigidity and bulk of plates, but I figure that they would also afford me some stabbing, cutting and blunt force trauma protection. Perhaps not as cool looking as a set of Mad Max tire armour, but far more modular, lighter and functional.

I'm really fond of this piece of kit, and am really glad I laid out for it. It's been the central piece of my LRP kit for some time. I could have gone with just a cloth tactical vest or a set of cams, but I wanted something that would really work, and I've never regretted it. When fending off invading aliens, herding zombies or facing immanent perfect storms, I highly recommend a dependable chest rig like this. I hope our troops in the field find it saving their vitals and keeping them safe!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Review: Crumpler Hillman Hunter

 I wanted to return to review one of my other pieces of rugged, dependable kit. This is the Crumpler Hillman Hunter which I got in the commemorative "Year of the Rabbit" all-red version last year for one of my partners' birthday. Red being her thing. As I've mentioned a few times, I'm all for brand loyalty, especially when the products are what I'm looking for.  As usual, the bag is made of the rugged, hard wearing and water resistant 900D Cordura outer and 150D Cordura Rip-stop lining. Twin Fastex style clips and webbing straps act as a compression closure, much like in my previously reviewed beloved messenger bag but also features a wide strip of reflective SOLAS type tape.
A 38mm wide seat-belt type strap lets the bag ride over a shoulder, across the body, as it features Crumpler's nifty QuickFlick™ buckle system. Inside the bag are a main pocket area and three smaller pockets, the middle of which is hook-and-loop closing. A slightly larger pocket sits on the "outside" of the the main body, but is also covered by the main flap. It is also hook-and-loop fastened, for added security. As well as the Fastex style clips, there are two sets of hook-and-loop pads on the leading edge of the main flap, which affix low down on the body of the bag.

I much prefer the clips over hook-and-loop, but for fast and easy, its hard to go past. As with all Crumpler bags I've encountered, there are always some "hidden" features which never cease to impress. On this pack, it is two external loops in the sides, which can be used to stuff extra pieces of gear that don't quite fit, or are perhaps needed in an instant. a wide mouthed carabiner could be clipped through them for extra attachment points.

This was a much appreciated addition to our household, and I'm glad I found it. It found a happy place in our collection as a every-day nappy bag for Tactical Baby, for times when the MEOP Medical Pouch by Platatac might have been overkill ... Its bright red colouration and reflector strip makes it an ideal carry bag for first-aiding, fast-moving (be it foot, bike or blade) or any other time you want to be seen and give the impression you are prepared for anything.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Review: Headsox

I collected this nice piece of kit last night, so you'll have to bear with me as I haven't had a lot of time to put it through its paces yet, but I have seen this kind of thing before, and here's what I can tell you about this one. This is the Headsox which is a seamless tube, 50cm long and 52cm in circumference. Its made from a polyester microfibre which is both light and stretchy. Being a microfiber, it is well suited to wicking moisture from the skin, both aiding in reducing moisture and humidity, but also acting as a means of thermal transfer.

Being damp is never good for the skin, whether in a hot or cold environment, and having a fast drying, wicking surface as a barrier to the environment is a great bonus when you are out adventuring. The Headsox can be soaked in water to facilitate rapid cooling in the heat, but also act as a wind-break, hot or cold and offer a UPF +20 protection from UV radiation in a single fold, doubled when folded. With 60 designs listed on their website , from both colourful to subdued. I chose the Camo Stripe pattern, being a subdued earthy olive and brown which suited my aesthetic nicely. The inside is a whitish colour, which is a pity, but not a problem, really.
One of the cute aspects of this product is the list of options how to wear it. They list 12differenbt styles, with some pictographic guides as to how to achieve them, and I will have to try them all, and see how they suit me. I'm fond on neck-warmers, so between that and keeping all my hair out of my face, I think this will be serving me for some time and doing me some good. I'm looking forwards to giving it a proper shake-down over the weekend. It's small and crushable enough that I think I'll be keeping it in a pocket in my holster permanently if it works out.

Its going to be hot, hot, hot here. Circus trips, picnics, yard-work, oh my!

[edit] I've now been wearing it for several days, both a a neck-loop (#2) and as a pony-tail pulled through head scarf (#7) and I can tell you, that soaked in water, in a breeze, this little guy just SUCKS the heat away. Brilliant.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Review: AUSCAM Medical Field Pack

Happy Australia Day! In honour of this auspicious day, I wanted to do a review of another piece of mystery swag my mysterious benefactor connected with the Australian Defense Force delivered. This is what the package insert listed as "Field Pack Medical, Camouflage Pattern". For all impressions, a fairly standard looking rectangular backpack, not unlike a hefty school bag and just as exciting looking, (apart from being in the much loved "hearts and bunnies" AUSCAM). There are hidden delights, so stick around and we'll get to them. Firstly the pack is made from the same rough wearing nylon as the previously reviewed Raven backpack. On the front of the pack are two external pockets, both fixed with twin Fastex buckles and webbing straps. The pockets are fairly shallow but probably good for documents and snacks.

The pack also has a fairly standard backpack style set of shoulder straps, padded with nylon straps. A sternum strap assists with stability and load bearing. There is a nylon handle on the side, for carrying the pack like a briefcases, which is an interesting variation from most carry handles, found on the top. A zippered pocket lines the whole of the back, and a cunningly designed pocket in the top conceals a waterproof cover. The pack is 445mm x 300mm x 190mm and whilst may appear to be Volvo-designed, the magic is all on the inside.

The interior of the pack is home to four pouches, each with a clear plastic face to see the contents, and webbing handles at each end. These pouches are all held in place by hook-side hook-and-loop backing, with the entire of the back wall of the pack being loop-side. Each pouch is fully zipperable and comes with a ID pocket for labeling. I'd estimate that each of the pouches has a 2-3L capacity and being removable, can be configured as you see fit. How I love the modularity of this set up!

I was fortunate enough that the pack came to me partially filled, as it had been retired from active use on the static range it was intended for. Inside are a number of bandages, gauze packs, tapes, gloves, sutures and the like. Pretty awesome as a starter kit. Some of the items seem to have passed their "best before" date, and will need to be replaced, but its a great windfall nevertheless. The included package insert tells me that a there is room for quite a number more items, which I will endeavor to accumulate or substitute.

Inside the front flap of the bag are some interesting features. A series of elastisised loops allow the retention of a number of items or tools, I'll put some more Cyalume sticks in them, and perhaps some labeled centrifuge tubes filled with medicines. A wide mesh pocket makes for storage of larger items, and the roll at the side is a waterproof mat that unfolds to give a large, "clean" drop cloth for laying out supplies in the course of treating an injury. Far better to place bandages on the mat from within the kit, rather than the muddy forest floor you might find yourself treating an injury on.
Having a big, well equipped first aid kit, with a wide range of consumables, ready for a range of situations, is a very good idea, especially when considering the needs that may arise following a disaster or catastrophe of some kind.  Regular supply lines will become strained if not cut, and those sterile and medicated products that we use to counter infection and treat injury can and will make a big difference, especially in the hands of those trained in their use.

So, Happy Australia Day, I hope nothing bad happens to you, your culture or civilization. Today.
Twice on one day would be annoying and lead to conflicts on my calendar.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Review: Kathmandu Hip bag

Here is a piece of essential kit that I received for Giftmas a number of years ago, which I have taken with me hiking all around Australia and New Zealand. It now makes up my bug-out-bag, and lives in the wheel well of my car, under Tactical Baby's car-seat. Being a sizable pack I've been able to use it as my sole day-pack when hiking up and around a number of mountains without being encumbered and more importantly keeping my hands and shoulders free. I've chopped and changed the contents a number of times, to suit my needs of the day.  It's also where my CRKT Stiff KISS and FUBAR live. I haven't been able to find what it is called, it seems to be out of stock, but here is what I can tell you about it.

There are three external pockets, one of which is a draw-string tightening bottle pouch, and two zippered pockets, each topped with a strip of SOLAS tape. The main body of the pouch holds an expansive chamber, probably at least 5L in capacity. Both the side pockets and main chamber are zippered, with toggles fitted for ease of opening, and are covered by well fitted lips to keep rain out. The whole pack is made of a hardy Cordura nylon throughout. Two sets of Fastex buckles on webbing straps are fitted to tighten the pack down, and there are three daisy-chain loops of webbing sewn onto the middle, perfect for fitting Cyalume sticks, I have three, red, blue and white, currently. The back pad is fitted with a wide band of closed-cell foam for padding, and also has a space between the pack and padding for fitting either a belt or perhaps documents. The side straps include some padding bands, both of which include a small, zippered utility pocket and come together in a wide banded Fastex clip. Two D-rings fitted to the top of the pack allow for shoulder straps to be fitted, to assist with load-bearing, or offering  alternate attachment points. A webbing handle finishes off the carry options nicely
Here's what I currently load out with: In the main chamber I have a tightly rolled woodland-cam waterproof poncho,  a linear induction flashlight (I taped over the emitter end, to cut down on light leakage). Two rolls of tape, an enameled mug, a roll of SES tape, a tube of sweetened condensed milk, 4 metal espresso cups, a bottle of bug-spray, a long length of high strength fishing line, a propane cylinder, the Bear Grylls  Ultimate Survival kit I've reviewed previously, and 50m of 5mm dynamic, along with two 2200kg carabiners and a Figure 8 Rappel Device.

In the outside zippered pockets,  I keep a snare kit, a Caribee camp stove, matches, Milton water  purification tablets, nails. In the other pocket, a set of bandages, BandAids, a survival whistle with a flint, tea-bags and instant chocolate. A Sea-To-Summit 10L Kitchen Sink lives in the bottle-holder, and in the side-strap pockets are another box of matches and a pill-tin with fishing hooks and sinkers.

By no means an exhaustive survival kit, but I like to think that with this in the car, I am able to be a whole lot more prepared for a road-side delay if I am out adventuring, or if the need arises, and we bug-out, an advantage over the elements.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Home Front: Training and Skills

As I mentioned in my opening post, I believe there is a lot we can do in order to be ready to face a disaster or catastrophe. Not just stockpiling needfuls, or getting the best kit and setup. More than choosing a prime bug-out location or arming yourself to the teeth, knowing how to survive in the face of hardship, and having the skills to get you out of a tight spot, and make it work in the long term to my mind is the difference between the gormless masses and the prepared. Molding the body and mind, as my kendo instructors have taught me, takes time, effort and dedication. Good teachers will guide, but it is up to the individual to learn, work and expand on that. I was inspired at an early age reading my fathers extensive library of Golden Age sci-fi. I came across this quote and it's stuck with me.

"A man should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects." Lazarus Long Time Enough For Love - Robert A. Heinlein 

I like to think that in my life, I've managed to accumulate a number of skills, and more importantly an attitude much like those referenced by Clint Eastwood's character GySgt Highway in his 1986 film, Heartbreak Ridge "Adapt, innovate, overcome!". Somethings, like raising and keeping chookens, and growing a vegetable patch are pretty pedestrian, and apart from the space and effort of maintaining them, they are pretty low-skill skills to acquire. A while back I decided that the feral doves that were raiding our chooken food were worth potting, so modified a part of the bunny hutch to make a "lobster pot" type trap. 
After catching a bunch of them over the space of a few days, and plucking, gutting and cleaning them, I was able to make a variety of reasonably-tasty meals with what was essentially foraged meat. Later after deciding that it was a LOT of work for what it was, we returned the wire extension to the bunnies, much to the delight of Triceratops Girl (or in this case, Bunny Girl)

Cross training, is a skill that can be applied to -life-, not just the adventurous. I happen to be adventurous, so my cross-skilling takes that path. I can sail-board, snorkel and SCUBA dive, I learned to drive a 4WD in the desert of Dubai, in preparation for possible evacuation in the lead up to the First Gulf War as a teen, though it was a lot longer till I was road-licensed. Spending a lot of time climbing indoor walls (and buildings, before parkour became a "thing") whilst in uni gave me a good feel for rope use, rigging and ascension. Not to mention how to get into places that you generally shouldn't or expect to be able to.

I took woodwork in Junior High in Canada, from which some skills with hammers, nails, chisels and saws came, good for building, breaking and repairing when simply buying a new one isn't an option.Having "handy" skills is a real draw-card, I've found, and opens many doors, especially when in a community that might otherwise lack that particular set. Knowledge is currency in the information age, but so are social skills. Being able to network with those around you is just as much a learn-able and valuable skill as being able to knock together a coop, turn a couple of hand fulls of seeds into hearty dove stew or rigging a rope bridge across a chasm. Not everyone can be good at everything, and one person, whilst able to accomplish a lot, will be taxed and stressed enough by a disaster situation, without having the pressure of "doing it all themselves". Gather your crew, work out who can do what, who is willing to learn and do new things, and how you can improve and develop everyone's skills, and attitudes.

Most people wont find the prospect of my training for the Tough Mudder to be very appealing, then again, who relishes the idea of digging in the fields to get next seasons crops in, or doing a full inventory audit of your supplies? Some things need preparation, in order to be ready for the challenges ahead!

We have a saying in our house, which is pretty well understood by us and ours "you get a place in our bunker..." (and the converse, equally holds "they DON'T get a place in the bunker..."). So perhaps you need to ask yourself, have you got the skills it will take to adapt, innovate and overcome? If not, or if you think there are things you could learn, train and develop in yourself, when is too soon to start? gambatte!  

Monday, January 23, 2012

Review: Stanley FatMax FUBAR

A couple of years ago I received a catalog in the mailbox from a local hardware store, and whilst flipping through it, came across something that immediately stopped me in my tracks. I've had a few hammers over the years, from ones I inherited from my father, to the bastard leftovers of shared-house shed tool boxes but I'd never before bought my own. I've even reviewed a multi-tool hammer I bought as a gift last Giftmas, but this is something different. This is the Stanley FatMax range FUBAR and it is a real beast. At 1.13kg it's a pretty heft piece if steel to be swinging, but this is no tack-driver. This is a breaker.
Made from a single piece of forged steel, with no fitting joins to weaken the tool, just a rubberised and textured grip covering the middle of the bar, this is a piece designed for some serious durability. It's design incorporates 4 tools in one, which as I've previously mentioned is always a draw-card for me. I appreciate extra functionality that doesn't compromise the efficacy of the tool. The head-end features a large striking face, positioned and balanced fairly well for rough work; pounding big nails, and bashing things into shape. As I said, it's not a tool for delicate fittings.

The back of the head features my favorite part, the toothed jaws are designed to fit and grab common lumber sizes (2x4 and decking boards). This is great, and I've demolished a packing crate in less than a minute with this, salvaging almost every piece for handy-work, where a regular hammer would have taken a lot more effort, time and risk of injury. Right tool, right job. I've also made bricks go away with it, not only popping one brick out of a wall, but also shattering them into gravel when the need arose.

The tail end is made up an angled pry-bar, with a nice broad chisel edge for getting a good "bite" into whatever you have slated for forceful opening, without being a snapable knife-edge. It also features a nail slot, beveled into the body of the tail, so as not to reduce the structural integrity of the edge. I've also used it as a lanyard loop. As you can see, the tool is coated in a protective coating, but has flaked off revealing the tempered steel underneath on the areas of hard wear. The hardened steel has taken pretty much all the beating I have dished out with only some light scratching, and I am fully satisfied with this as a demolition tool.

There has been some debate I've read about this as a post-Apocalyptic hand-weapon, and whilst heafty, and oddly shaped, I'd suggest that with practice, it would be a valuable addition to your arsenal. By practice, I mean using it as intended without mangling yourself or those around you. Whether tearing down improvised barricades, or putting them up, I'm glad to know I have a FUBAR in my car, to FUBAR anything that blocks my path. Just like Stanley the Honey Badger would. FTW.

Video demonstration anyone? 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Review: Light My Fire - Meal Kit

Being a very lucky critter, I was fortunate enough to get a swag of cool camping and outdoorsy time kit for Giftmas, and it's time I got around to giving credit where credit is due. My lovely partner and mother of Tactical Baby, who writes her own inspirational blog  went all out at one of our local adventure gear shops with both this blog, and my own tendencies in mind. One of those items is the Meal Kit by Light My Fire who are the the amazing people behind the Swedish Fire Steel So will little more ado, let me talk you through the Meal Kit.

Firstly, the strapping is elasticized on two of the three bands, giving a very close grip whilst still being easy to get into to gain access tot he Kit.
Likewise, it was simple to put back on when needed. The third leg of the strap is webbing, which includes reflective fibers like those found in a safety belt and a wire-gated swivel clip for mounting to a pack. This is a great idea for someone like myself who goes hiking, as having some extra passive signaling material hanging from your back gives you an extra Search and Rescue option, not to mention letting traffic know you're there. This might be an issue for people for whom light-discipline is an issue, but nothing some tape wouldn't fix, I expect. Inside the tightly sealing lid (which holds 450mL) is a collection of really nice secondary items:

A spork with a knife edge, very handy and remarkably good to eat with. A combined strainer and cutting board, which is an awesome addition. I usually end up trying to do my chopping on my plate, and strain with a fork. So much simpler with such a light and flat-packed addition! The spill-free cup holds 350mL with measuring lines at 100, 200 and 300mL. Its lid is a tight fit but the sippy lid leaves the container unsealed so its not ideal for storage on the go. A woven cord holds the lid of the sippy cup to its body, good news for those of us who loose pieces when washing in communal sinks. Nested within the cup is the fully sealing SnapBox which holds 170mL. All of these secondary items fit within the main bowl which itself holds 900mL. There is a hole in the rim of the main bowl, presumably for hanging it to dry.

I wondered how much use the kit would be as a pre-packed meal set, rather than just a full mess-kit and found that the elastic straps stretched enough such the the sippy cup (containing the SnapBox) could be carried outside the main bowl/plate combo.  This means it could be packed full of ingredients, ready to prepare later or eat immediately, which is a real bonus if you have the time to pack it before bugging out. 
The plastics are all microwave safe, dishwasher safe. and interestingly enough, the kit is reported to float. Good to know if you expect to face water hazards, or the dreaded shared camp-kitchen sink. This is a really cool set. I like its lines, and the proud Scandi that I am appreciates its efficient and neatly nested design. Again, I'm a very lucky critter, and I'm grateful I'm loved enough to be bought cool gear!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Home Front: Suplies!

To me, nothing says "preparedness" like a well stocked pantry. Whether it's a hoard of stinky roleplayers, a hoard of slinky poly-folk or a hoard of radioactive muties, you want to have plenty on hand to ensure you can pull through unscathed.  Not only staples, but also all the fixings to be able to do more than -survive-. Subsistence living is a morale killer and a well made meal can make all the difference to someones spirits, I've found. This is the same if you're on a tight budget financially, or if "The Big One" has come and you have to simply make do with what you can get, and resupply is a long way off.  Bulk stores, in well sealed containers are the way to go. The fact our pantry is tall and deep means we can shelve a lot, without too much hassle.

Planning for a house-full of people showing up at any time, can take a bit of doing. Its a good discipline to have, especially with the forethought that those skills encourage. As previously mentioned we do a bit of urban-homesteading (the yucky squash vine miraculously became a pumpkin vine, thankfully) and home preserving of produce but that just acts as a supplement. For our big fresh-food buys, we hit the markets, and for the even bigger storable staples, we hit somewhere BIG. Buying in bulk gives savings, and those savings not only give you more to buy more, but also to pad out the bulk with tasty morsels and luxury items, or "just in case" purchases that might otherwise not make it to your domestic grocery list.

I wont go into what you should or shouldn't put into your grocery basket, but keep in mind the "use-by" dates, combinations of foods that can be mixed and matched to produce variety from limited resources and reducing not only wastage, but with careful selection, not stocking up on things that no one will like or eat. We often buy whole 24can slabs of canned goods, beans, corn, lentils, tomato pulp, because they keep, are modular and can be added to most meals in some way. The kids also eat them, a real bonus, in ANY situation.
So after securing your giant load of shopping, bulk TP and nappies in hand, what do you DO with it all. How much can you haul at any one go? I have a 5door RAV4 cruiser, which happens to have roof-racks and a tow-ball, but with some good Coyote-magic fueled 3D Tetris skills pretty well honed through years of moving house and international travel we can usually fill up the cargo section without encroaching on the back seat, where we have two child seats and one long-suffering teenager.  Once home, we decant into the pantry, two fridges, a chest freezer and into these recognizable and ubiquitous modular storage systems that can be yanked and stacked in the back of the RAV4 at a moments notice. Stock rotation is important, not only for freshness, but to check what is being consumed, what is being rejected, and what has been forgotten.  Bulk water containers, dry-goods, flour and the like all have important parts to play, as do household items like cleaning products and first aid supplies.

It all comes down to: know what you have, know what you need, know where it is, how to store it and know how to move it if the need arises.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Review: Platatac SR25 Utility Double Mag Pouch

I'm a big fan of pouches, especially modular, multifunction pouches. It's always good to have the option to reach in and grab what you want, know that it will be where you put it, and that you can get to -some- of your gear without having to rummage through -all- of your gear. I've previously reviewed Platatac's FUP Pouch which is a tremendous pouch, but different needs can be met better by different products. So let me waste no more time, and introduce you to the SR25 Utility Double Mag pouch. This is designed primarily to carry two popular 7.62mm magazines, as utilised by the SR-25 sniper rifle, from which the name is derived.

(As a side-note, I'm not much of a gun-nut, and almost all my knowledge is theoretical, fan-boy based, but the SR25/M110 would be one of my choices from the Matrix Stockroom , that's how I roll.) Apart from that factoid, here's what you can expect from this pouch. Made from the same 1000D Cordura the other pouches in their range, but this one is listed in as being made double-thickness, which no doubt will give this high-intensity usage survivability well beyond my requirements, at least. In keeping with the FUP, the SR25 has both a hook-and-loop and double press-stud closure.

I really like having the option of either of these methods. I prefer press-studs, but hook-and-loop is a fast and ready means to secure variably sized load-outs. As well as the dual method closures, the pouch comes with an elastic compression strap, principally for when only 1 magazine is used, but really, any time the pouch is half-filled, it keeps it snug and stops your needfuls rattling about. Another great feature are the two strips of MOLLE attachment points on the lid of the flap. I keep my SAR Eclipse Signal tags on one of mine. A great accessory point right there. A pull tab on the lid-flap makes for easy access and also as a lanyard attachment point for dummy-cords. The pouch attaches with twin-strips of the PALS/MOLLE system featured in all of the Platatac range. I love it, gives a sturdy, trouble free connection, in one piece. A drainage eyelet ensures it doesn't become a swimming pool.

Here it is lined up against the FUP, just to give it some perspective. I use mine as utility pouches whilst at Stargate LRP events, with one holding my compass and monocular, the other holding nitrile gloves, surgical mask and some administrative documents. I like the low-profile fit and the ease of which it provides access to my stowed gear. I have no doubt that if I were slinging steel, These pouches would serve their intended purpose admirably, they certainly suit my needs when pew-pew-pewing with laser-tag or NERF as they fit the NERF clip system clips too...

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Review: Fiskars Log Splitter

When disaster strikes, sometimes it's the basic things that are the most important. Freedom to move is one of those. I frequently travel up into the Dandenong Ranges so visit, collect and return my 3yo daughter, Triceratops Girl. The way is heavily forested, mountainous and prone to storms and heavy rainfall, as well as bushfires. I've had to clear fallen trees from my path on more than one occasion, which is one of the reasons I keep my favorite camping axe in the back of the car. I picked this piece up at a hardware store a number of years ago, after seeing the advertisements where a tractor is pictured sitting on the handle, lent over a log.

Between seeing that, and hefting it in the shop, I was all but sold. If it's something I can trust the Finns with, it's chopping wood. And Vodka. Which may have led to the parking of the tractor on the axe in the first place. The proof, they say, is in the pudding and here is what I can tell you. The hollow haft is made of a lightweight and extremely hard wearing fiberglass material called "FiberComp". This puts almost all the weight in the head, where you want it. It's flexible enough to take the shock of some serious and extensive chopping and splitting, and still sturdy enough to DO all that work. The hook in the handle ensures a positive grip and the haft is well textured for both a good swinging action and also keeping a solid positive grip. as well as having a lanyard hole for added safety.

The head is where the action is. Firstly, the head is molded into the haft, and in all the years I have had it it's never given the slightest hint of budging. The entire head is coated with a non-stick substance called PTFE (Teflon is DuPont's name for it...)which according to Fiskars reduces the friction of blade strike and withdrawal by 25%. Most important to my way of thought however is the blade geometry, which is really special. The convex cross-section acts not only to enure a deep bite, but also provides a wide bevel to force logs open, Star Destroyer style! The convex shape helps keep it from being wedged into its cut. The steel has been drop forged, doubled hardened. What this means for you and I is that it holds a very keen edge and is easy to maintain. There are a couple of dings, from loaning it to lesser humans, who chopped wood onto gravel. I've worked most of the damage out with my diamond files.  So dumb I couldn't even get angry. Just took it away from them, and let them forage for firewood from then on.

I've taken this with me on every camping trip since having it, and over Easter last year, chopped enough red-gum to cook for 10 people for 6 days with it. I bent the ring I was wearing, gave myself a little blister and needed -one- resharpening. A very fine effort. The locking case not only holds the very sharp edge safely, but I have also used it to affix the axe to my hip, either lashing it to my belt, or by feeding my gorgeous little camping-knife in its sheath through the handle like a big button. As you can see, from the wear on the handle and head, I've gotten a lot of use from this axe, and plan to get a lot more.

It's one of the first items that comes to mind when someone mentions disaster preparedness, because its reliable, light, effective and extremely hardy. Fallen trees, barricades, firewood, encroaching Triffid hoards, this axe and I will go a long way to making ready!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Review: EDC holster harness

I have a lot of "things" on my person. My EDC makes most of my friends balk. Simply the amount of keys I seem to have accumulated would put many high-school janitors to shame, it seems. Included here are the previously reviewed EDC keychain tools, my mighty but petite Surefire flashlight, and my formidable and functional Folding K.I.S.S. but also seen here are a few other items worth noting. Two "little" pens (I used to have a Fisher Space Pen but its sleek little body slipped a pocket and was lost, years ago). A hank of fast-rope that was originally venetian-blind cord, a tiny box of Crumpler matches, a lonely looking ear-plug (woops) and my foxy Poken RFID based business card. Also on my -second- keychain, as well as a nautical grade Stainless steel carabiner, are my airport-safe nail-clippers, my VPN token and a USB stick I opened and embedded with paraffin to water and shock-proof. My wallet (with an accessory carabiner and dummy-cord) and a few hair-ties top off what would fill up my pockets on a daily basis, not including the iPhone I used to snap this pic.Where do I -put- all of this gear?

Here: A custom made holster-of-pockets that I had made by the very fine people of RemoteEquipment Repairs."Specialist Outdoor Adventure Gear Repairs"

I walked into their upstairs shop on day many years ago (perhaps as long ago as 10, because I had a dumb phone and a Palm V) and emptied my pockets, and the el-cheepo holster-of-pockets I had scored at a market somewhere and said "I need to fit all of this, under my arms, no hook-and-loop, big buckles and zippers, it needs to be rugged, black and adjustable." They delivered for a modest fee, a piece of kit that I now consider myself all but naked when not wearing. It features two internal pockets under the buckles, and a spacious zipperable pocket sufficient for passports, phones and the like. My sunglasses dangle in their case, which also contains my earbuds.

The nylon shows the wear of all-day-every-day use, but this has seen me right in every situation I have put it through. When I go to airports (after removing all the pointies) I unsling this, toss it through the X-ray, and wander on through. I've even decorated the front straps with badges and buttons, Jeans for Genes day, a poppy for Armistice Day, a Kodama sprite, a "boo-yah" button, and some words of wisdom from AFT's Jungle Recon and Army Ranger.

This holster has been a real boon to me, and lets me keep all my needfuls hands-free but on hand. When it finally goes to broken-gear heaven, I will give it a Viking funeral, but not before securing an even more rugged, modular and adjustable replacement.
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